Weather Report November 2014

These images were taken at the warmest time of today ~16:30:




The day before yesterday when I went to the market at 08:30 it was -5c. Looks like winter is settling in.

The summer was fairly wet. During the 6 weeks I was away it rained every other day. The grasses have been continuously green. The stinging nettles were productive all through the summer and until a couple of weeks ago.

Fall was fairly dry. There were a couple of rain events but nothing major … didn’t have much effect on the rain barrels … it was a very good year for mice and flies (signs of the last of both species are finally fading out of the house). Snow has not yet made its first appearance … though according to the forecast it may arrive any night (I just covered the piles of wood in the picture above in case snow or slush does arrive tonight).

The first wave of cold came relatively late … around mid-October. I started heating the house with the rocket stoves around that time, but not every day. Shortly after that I had to empty the solar hot water system to prevent it from freezing … so showers have also been based on wood-burning since then.

For the last 2 or 3 weeks the rockets have been burning every day – a morning burn in the living room and a night burn in the bedroom. During the last week there has been a noticeable drop in temperatures … I have had to feed the rockets 3 batches instead of 2 …  and on a few days I’ve even had to do a second burn during the day to keep the living room from getting to cold.

Yesterday, when the images above began to unfold I finally moved into a thermal under-layer of clothes and have had to put on quite a few layers when going outside. Hurting hands have set in too. The kitchen (entrance hall to the house) is becoming less pleasant to be in since it is only heated indirectly (heat that escapes from the two adjacent rooms and from cooking). Ricky, the small dog, has started spending nights inside. Rain water barrels are freezing over night, I can still break through the ice in the mornings … but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that much longer … I think I’ll have to empty them soon.

Days are short. I have settled into a winter rhythm that involves the routines of heating (carrying wood in, starting and feeding fires) and living in between. I still need to change the main water filter and add the final layer of insulation (straw bales and tarps) on to the two man-holes through which the water supply system passes … and may this winter be warm and pleasant.

Winter is here.


Split wood with a tire

I saw this video probably a couple of years ago. This year I ordered a new batch of wood and decided to give it a try … and all I can say is WOW! It doesn’t always go smoothly (depends on the size of the wood and tire, knots in the wood, etc.) … but it is always an improvement on hacking in the open. It is especially useful when cutting wood for rocket-stove size … generally smaller pieces than wasteful metal boxes.

Recent Mornings at Bhudeva

the village is in a low spot and we are in a valley so it can take some time for the fog to lift … sometimes until noon … until then I need to either run on faith (or drive up and out of the village) to know that the sun is indeed shining.


The Second First Rocket Stove

It was on my mind for many months … rebuilding the first rocket stove. It worked good – though not great. There were some design errors and compromises and during the last winter there were more smokeback events that I could not explain. I wasn’t keen on taking apart something that (kinda) worked and embarking on another build project. So I played around with it in my mind for a long time. Eventually I had a design I felt comfortable pursuing, I did a simple cob test to confirm the materials I had … counted and purchased bricks … and decided to go for it.

At the last minute I decided to give it a chance to become a workshop build and so I published an invitation and sent out word to people I knew and thought may know other people who would be interested … this was 3 or 4 days before the planned weekend build … and once person did sign up … making him the first participant in the first workshop I have ever offered at Bhudeva. I had two pairs of helping hands – Annelieke and Horatiu.

The project was born when I did created this layout:


I was able to take real measurements, finalize brick counts … and get confident enough about my vision to move forward. The first thing we had to do was to take apart the existing stove … which was magical … the knowledge that most of the materials can be reused … that the rest are non-toxic and can simply be tossed out anywhere on the land where they will be reassimilated by nature … its one thing to know this and another to experience it:




I was surprised to find the metal heat riser mostly in tact … though it was dry and chipping. Most of the clay-perlite insulation was used in thew new build …  which … began by recreating the layout in place to find the exact position it would be in relation to the existing chimney.




With the position fixed we were able to get to work on building a raised floor:


And then, layer by layer, building up the core of the stove:




… and when we brought in the barrel for a first fitting it started to feel like it just might become a real life rocket stove:


In the following image you can see the experimental part of this build. I discovered these honeycomb bricks and decided to use them to easily create heat channels and storage mass. There are two air passages (barely visible in the image) that allow the hot gasses to flow from the barrel into the two-brick chamber on the left hand side of the image – where they flow up. Then (as can be seen in later images) there is a top chamber that allows the gasses to flow across and down the two-brick chamber at the top of the image (right up against the wall) – where they flow down and then out through the chimney. There were three experiment going on: 1) using honeycomb bricks; 2) introducing a vertical flow both with both bottom-up and then top-down flows; 3) and gaining improved heat storage by having mass outside (the shell of the bricks) and inside (the honeycomb pattern).


This is as far as we got in the two days of work we had available. Horatiu and I agreed that he would come back for another day of work during which we will complete the build and fire it up for the first time. So during the next few days Annelieke and I continued doing some preparatory tasks. The most prominent task was the heat riser. Annelieke started doing a perfect and wrong job. Can you guess what is wrong in this image:


Annelieke is doing fantastic work getting the bricks aligned and leveled … but she is laying them without overlaps … creating a beautifully symmetric and unstable structure. This is something I take so much for granted that I did not spot until a few more layers were built and it became very prominent. So It had to be taken down and rebuilt properly:


While she did that I built some insulation chambers around the core (to extend the insulation that would be placed around the heat riser) and started filling them with the clay-perlite mix from the old core … and as you can see in the bottom-left corner I started playing around with cob … hoping for a better experience (I’ve had very poor experiences in the past):


On the day Horatiu came back we finished building up the honeycomb brick chambers and the top chamber in which gasses could pass from the up-flow chamber to the down-flow chamber:



The top chamber was closed with bricks and we then added on the sheet-metal container for the insulation:


… filled it up with clay-perlite insulation:



… and sealed it:


… and suddenly that was it … everything was ready for a barrel:


… and lighting a fire … the smoothest lighting of a new rocket stove I’ve ever experienced … excellent draft (probably helped by the fact that the core had a few good days to dry):


I was then left on my own to slowly transport cob-worthy material, to mix it up in reasonable one-person batches … and slowly build it and transform the stove from something very mechanical and engineered to something organic and mysterious:




There were a few places where seeds apparently got into the cob mix … and given that there was a lot of moisture inside this happened, in a few places:


It now, though still slowly drying, looks like this:


The second lighting of the stove, in contrast to the first, went very poorly. I am guessing it had to do with the loads of cool moist cob. This is where the experimental part may have also kicked in … the gasses may have had a hard time establishing a complete and continuous flow throughout the stove, resulting in serious backsmoke. During the third lighting I was careful to preheat at both cleanouts, to start very gradually and only when the stove was flowing well to put in a full load … and … to my great relief … it ran perfectly again. The fourth lighting was not so good … I wasn’t as patient. Since then I’ve lit it a few more times and it has been going fine.

I estimate that, aside from the bricks, I put on over half a ton (maybe up to three quarters) of cob. Thats a lot of moisture. At the end of the first lighting (before cob went on) when the full load finished burning the bricks at the back were noticeable warm. Not so during the next few lightings. There are many liters of water in there that need to dry. This is something that should be taken into consideration in a construction schedule. I started the construction early so there would be time to experiment and make corrections. I did not take into considerations how long this would take to dry … it still is drying.

Cob was much more friendly this time … finally. I played around with different finishing techniques … I still am. It is a subtle thing finishing and there seem to be numerous paths to go about it. It is very pleasant work (when it works) to be able to mold shapes, smooth corners, add colors. It felt like a complementary and balancing process to the more structured, measured, aligned process of building the core. It felt free, open, secure,  … embracing and welcoming. It is a pleasant way to finish a build and a much more pleasant result 🙂

The stove has already worked for a few cold nights. It’s still hard to say how good it works because: its not that cold yet, there is still humidity in the mass, the barrel itself is partly wrapped in cob … so a few things still shifting and changing. I am looking forward to experiencing how it works … both the immediate heating and the heat storage for the night. I have a feeling that it is going to be more efficient in terms of wood consumption (then its predecessor) … I am curious how it will compare in terms of heat storage (the previous stove was all storage, slow to heat up but then radiated plenty of warmth throughout the night – sometimes even overheating the room).

Last Minute Rocket Stove Workshop

I’ve started preparations for replacing our first rocket stove with a newer, better built, better functioning rocket stove.

I am planning the new build for this coming weekend and have decided to offer this build as a mini-workshop on rocket stoves.

We will be building a rocket stove with a small mass attached to it (not a full bench as in the complete rocket mass heater design). It will be an opportunity to learn what were the limitations of the previous design (and why they were introduced in the first place) and the considerations that went into the new design. We will be building a typical rocket core with an attached brick chamber with some cob to add more mass and bring it altogether. It is a tight design that will fill a tight space.

You will have an opportunity to:

  • Learn about rocket stove design.
  • Participate in all stages of construction.
  • Meet the materials and the tools involved.
  • Spend some time at and learn about Bhudeva

All within the settings and limitations of a traditional Romanian village house.

The build/workshop will take place on August 23-34 (Saturday & Sunday). There are 5 places for participants. Sleeping will be in tents (there is plenty of space). We will be doing everything together: working, cooking, cleaning. The price of the workshop is 450 Ron.

If you are interested, please fill out this form:

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Ildi and Levente Embracing Spring 2014

Before I get to the body of this post I’d like to say this. The reason you get to see more images from Ildi & Levente then from other producers is because we are neighbor. We would be happy to post more images from other produers and that is where you may come into the picture. If you enjoy photography and maybe even a member of one of our boxes and want to get a closer look at where your food comes from and want to share those images with others then please do visit with one of our producers, snap some images and send them to us … we will happily publish them.

I think that this year’s centerpiece is Levente’s improvised heating system. Initially he welded together an old stove box and boiler to heat water which is circulated through pipes which heat everything from plants to young-chicks:





Then due to frosty nights he added a hot air blower made up of all used parts: an old pump engine, a propeller from a broken down car and a radiator he found in a scrap metal shop in Cluj and a timer that switches it on and off (I think in half our intervals) so that the engine doesn’t overload.



The heated greenhouse is already home to numerous generations of plants, some of which will be transplanted into other greenhouses where they will grow and mature still protected from potentially cold weather, significantly extending the growing season.



One greenhouse is already filled with green – with plenty of spinach and soon radishes.


In addition to the chicks pictured above there are two mother hens busy taking care of just hatched chicks:



And continuing Levente’s metal-working season he has constructed an improvised power onion planter – which should transform a two week task into a two day task.






This winter there was a substantial group of members who continued to enjoy deliveries from Ildi and Levente (and other producer-families) throughout the winter. Now with a growing season starting earlier, the “production year” has expanded amazingly … from about 5 months in the first year to 9 or 10 months. Wonderful evolution.